There are two types of people in jail or prison: those who were wrongfully accused and victimized by an unjust system, and those who are guilty and whose punishment is just according to the system of law they have broken. The Bible has something to say to both the innocent and guilty who are in jail/prison. To the guilty, the Bible recommends truth and submission to the laws of the government, and it offers freedom from the spiritual prison of sin—freedom that comes through the person of Christ (Romans 6:18). To the innocent and wrongfully accused, the Bible offers peace, patience, and hope in difficult circumstances, as well as the hope of heavenly reward.
Obedience to authorities and laws is a biblical principle. God has instituted governments to maintain order and to protect citizens, and if a person knowingly breaks the laws of the land, the Bible says that person will bear the punishment for his actions (Romans 13:1–4). If going to jail or prison is the appropriate punishment for what a person has done, according to the laws of his nation, the Bible does not excuse that person or seek to free him. The Bible calls submission to rules and authorities “good” (Titus 3:1). We are not to commit crimes (1 Peter 4:15). However, the apostle Paul and most of the other apostles were jailed at one time or another for preaching the gospel. If obedience to God’s Word is considered a crime for which one should be jailed, then Christians are to continue in obedience to God, even if prison is the result (Acts 5:29).
There are many examples in Scripture of innocent men who were put into prison. Joseph was thrown in an Egyptian prison because he was wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting his master’s wife (Genesis 39:6–20). The truth was that the woman propositioned Joseph, and, when Joseph rejected her, she took her revenge by lying about him. The truth was buried, and Joseph wound up in jail, but “the Lord was with him” (verse 21).
John the Baptist was also thrown in prison for unjust reasons: King Herod was angry with him for saying that it was wrong for the king to marry his brother’s wife (Mark 6:17–18). In prison, John received special encouragement from the Lord (Luke 7:22). John was eventually beheaded on a whim, to appease the wishes of Herod’s spiteful wife.
John’s and Joseph’s situations were terribly unjust, but the Bible never says that we will be able to avoid injustice. In fact, Christians are to expect unjust persecution in an unjust world (Matthew 5:10–12). “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). We will “face trials of many kinds” and should rejoice to see them (James 1:2). The Bible does not promise freedom from struggle or from injustice in this world. However, in the world to come, there will be perfect justice (Isaiah 32:1). Until that time, God promises to set us free spiritually and emotionally. Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom—even inside a jail cell (2 Corinthians 3:17).